Vinegar was used in drinks to keep them fresh in the days (centuries) before refrigerators. It even stood in for spirits during the American Prohibition. Now it's making a comeback as the backbone of some delicious non-alcoholic drinks.
Christine talks to Bethan Higson and Matthew Jukes about the drinks they have created, and what made them choose apple cider vinegar as a base ingredient.
Learn about the 3 key ingredients that go into a shrub, and why switchel is just another name for a shrub with ginger.
Bethan Higson is the Founder of Mother Root https://www.motherroot.london
Matthew Jukes is a wine expert, journalist and buyer, and is the creator of Jukes Cordialities https://jukescordialities.com and https://www.matthewjukes.com
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Hello, I'm Chrissie Parkinson. Welcome to my journey through the world of drinks without alcohol. After 18 years as head of wine for a restaurant group, I became co founder of the specialist no no drinks consultancy brimful drinks. I believe that all drinks whether they have alcohol or not should look beautiful and taste great. If you care about low or no drinks, this podcast is for you. I am your alcohol free sommelier.Chrissie Parkinson:
Acetic acid. Most of us know this as something we put on our chips or maybe in a salad dressing. It's the main component of vinegar. And vinegar is what you get when bacteria called acetobacter are allowed to grow in alcoholic drinks such as wine or cider. It doesn't sound like something that would taste good in a glass, but apparently it does. This week, I've been talking to two people who have both used vinegar in different ways to develop delicious alcohol free drinks. First of all, I caught up with Bethan Higson. She's the creator of Mother Root, which is a ginger switchel. I asked her to tell me what drew her to vinegar.Bethan Higson:
When I first discovered switchels and shrubs and drinking vinegars and that whole category. I had never heard about them. And it was quite it's quite an odd one for me to have chosen because I never was a kind of vinegar nut. You know, you get some people who are absolutely obsessed with vinegar, they put it on their or their food and you know, they absolutely love it. For me, sometimes I just find it too much. You know, I'm not I'm not the person eating the pickled gherkins from from the jar if that makes sense. But at the time when I was looking for non alcoholic drink interesting non alcoholic drinks. I was actually pregnant for the first time. And I had been working in the wine trade for about 10 years and I love complex, interesting drinks. And the non alcoholic options at the time just seemed still a little simple light. And I really love I do love wines, especially with high acidity and I love the complexity the complex natures of wines. And so I was actually researching non alcoholic drinks, high acidity how ways in which to experiment with acidity and drinks is kind of how I started. And I came across this New York Times article, which was about shrubs the use of shrubs in New York had bartenders were reviving this old fashioned drink and using drinking vinegars and shrubs in cocktails as a an interesting alternative acidity in their drinks, an alternative to citrus and how it opened up the door to such a wide range of flavours. And so I thought that was really interesting.Chrissie Parkinson:
I also chatted to Matthew jukes. Now he's best known as a wine expert, but he's also the creator of the non alcoholic Jukes Cordialities range. From the name you might think these are simply fruity, sweet cordials, but it turns out he was inspired by the history of vinegar drinks, just like Bethan was.Matthew Jukes:
I thought I'd go back in time, and I found a recipe called the haymakers punch. And a haymakers punch is the sort of precursor to what the Americans call a shrub and, and what you know, both sides of the Atlantic call it a switchel. And that was a very healthy cordial. And I love the idea. I love the philosophy I love the fact that it was a refreshing and stable drink because vinegar gives incredible stability and vinegar. Apple cider vinegar in particular, has this incredible ability to draw out perfume flavour and colour very gently from whatever's soaking in it masquerading as a wine term. And I thought if I could do this carefully with with sort of precision that that would hold up and it was mixed with waterChrissie Parkinson:
Bethan's drink, Mother Root, is a ginger switchel. So I know it's made with vinegar. Til the last few years, the only place you'd have found a vinegar drink would be in a health food shop. You certainly wouldn't have seen one in a bar. I asked Bethan exactly what switchel is, why it disappeared in the first place and why she decided to bring it back.
Well, there's a couple of definitions of it, but there's probably more than a couple. It's a really old fashioned drink that originates in America or even potentially in the Caribbean before then. It was certainly popularised in America and was famous during the colonial period, and also really became quite popular in the prohibition period. And at its essence, it's a blend of apple cider vinegar, ginger and a sweetener of some sort. So in the Caribbean that would have had molasses in the east of the US it would have had often maple syrup. But then there's also examples of it being blended with honey as well. So balancing out the flavours, the acidity of the apple cider vinegar with some sweetness that also gives this lovely floral and richer mouthfeel. And actually, it was a drink without class, it was drunk from everyone from farmers. Sometimes it's referred to as the haymakers punch, it was the kind of refreshing drink that they would have, at the end of the day, they would fill up their mason jars with switchel to the base of, of apple cider vinegar and ginger and honey, they would add water, and they would fill up their mason jars, put them in the streams throughout the day to keep them cool and drink that to quench their thirst at the end of the day, and also would energise them, but there are also much more sort of more elevated examples of it being used. There's references to a big bowl of switchel being in the Senate and senators helping themselves to a cup of switchel before they made a speech. So really, it was it was incredibly popular. I've heard it referred to as the Coca Cola of the colonial era, it was that popular everyone drunk it in the prohibition it was enjoyed as a fiery drink with the warming finish but without the alcohol. So it mimicked that sense of slow sipping drink, and that sort of fiery burn that you get from alcohol but without being alcoholic, so it's, it's got this really long history, but at its base, it's this blend of ginger, apple cider vinegar and a sweetener of some sort. By the turn of the 20th century, and particularly when refrigeration became much more widespread, it was much more easy to preserve fruits, juices by refrigeration, and we didn't need to kind of use vinegar in that in that way anymore. So vinegar as a as a preservation, and particularly in drinks just fell out of fashion. I love the romance around drinks. And I was just fascinated that there was this, this whole category of drinks that had existed that we'd forgotten about. And this this idea of being able to scratch around and rediscover something that had existed before it was really lovely.Chrissie Parkinson:
I hadn't tried switchel before I tasted Mother Root, but I had come across something quite similar called shrub. I asked Bethan to explain the difference.Bethan Higson:
It isvery similar to a shrub if you were to take the Oxford English dictionary definition of what a switchel is, a blend of vinegar, fruit, spice herb and a sweetener not even suggesting that it needs to be be ginger. That is the definition of a shrub. So it's perhaps just a more local term, or a term that sort of I don't know of endearment that then stuck in America and became the word that they used for it for this ginger drink.Chrissie Parkinson:
So the definitions of shrub and switchel seem to be very much the same. But what really stands out for me is that vinegar is vital to both. Bethan says she's not a vinegar nut, but I'm not sure I believe her. He she is again.Bethan Higson:
There's a huge history of vinegars and drinks that goes back to Hippocrates. We used vinegars to effectively preserve fruit and herbs and spices. And it gave a really crisp and refreshing taste. And it was something that was enjoyed. I started to play around myself and made them at home and it was just wonderfully surprised by the ability to enhance flavour, intensify flavour, and get incredible balance. And that's when I understood that vinegar is not just about the acidity and that smell that you think of when you think of vinegar. It also when used right, it's it's a flavour enhancer, it carries flavour and it's really like a really important piece of seasoning, you know, and I think that's what got me really excited I suddenly saw, okay, well non alcoholic options are often bland and simple because when you remove alcohol, you're removing something that enhances flavour whereas the vinegar element when you add that in and you play with that you're actually adding something that enhances flavour and brings a new experience and, and I thought that was fascinating.Chrissie Parkinson:
Come back after the break, and we'll find out why the choice of vinegar matters and whether vinegar drinks are an easy sell.Chrissie Parkinson:
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It occurred to me that Matthew being a wine man hadn't used wine vinegar as the base for Jukes Cordialities. I asked him whyMatthew Jukes:
I tried it of course, I tried every sort of vinegar and wine vinegars and verjus and things like that. They're really quite powerful and often used you know, in cooking and in vinaigrettes and strong flavoured things and I wanted the opposite. I wanted something with the same properties, but with a gentle flavour. And Apple Cider Vinegar organic apple cider vinegar that we get from Italy, as the most gentle that I can find is very much the magical ingredient within my drinks.Chrissie Parkinson:
Bethan also had concerns about the vinegar being too dominant. And in the end, she also chose to go with the traditional choice of apple cider vinegar,Bethan Higson:
it doesn't have to be a particular type, you can use any type of vinegar. And in fact, that's quite exciting, because they all have really different characters. It has to be a good quality vinegar, because it is a strong flavour is pungent aroma. And so anything that can dominate can also dominate for the wrong reasons. It has to be a really good quality vinegar, but there's all sorts, you know, coconut vinegar, wine vinegar, berry vinegar, you know, all sorts that you can play around with, champagne vinegar, you can get even very specific about what particular grape I mean, I've played with moscato vinegar, and it really has that kind of stone fruit character to it's lovely. I went for an apple cider vinegar, and one that is very fresh and bright and light. So within apple cider vinegar, there's all sorts of different varieties and what you're searching for, perhaps for a vinegar that you might use on a salad is not necessarily the sort of vinegar that you might want to use in a drink so but for me, it was about brightness, and quite sort of citrus almost character that works really nicely. So it's about finding the right balance.Chrissie Parkinson:
Both Mother Root and Jukes Cordialities are delicious, but I wondered whether people are actually willing to try a drink based on vinegar. I asked both Matthew and Bethan whether they'd experienced any pushback,Matthew Jukes:
we have had a few complaints because people buy it and then say, Oh, my God, this has got vinegar in it, and I don't like vinegar. And so let's just give it another go. And use dilution as your friend. So dilute the drinks a little more, so they're not quite as strong. And then of course, you get an email back saying, Oh, I didn't realise now I'm drinking it. One part, Jukes to 15 parts water, and that vinegar taste has gone away. That's exactly right. So everyone has their critical tolerance,Bethan Higson:
I don't really tend to get much pushback from sommeliers and bartenders, they are quite excited about it. I think they like to have something that is different has history. Is is something new to show their customers. I think the retailers sometimes are a bit nervous as to how to talk about it, and will vinegar put people off. But in general, the trade, particularly restaurants, and bartenders are really excited about having something new. And customers themselves. I It's funny, I think things have come a long way even in the past two years. When I first started and started talking about vinegar mixed in the drink, you know, there was the or I'm not sure about that. But now and particularly with the popularity of drinks like kombucha, and kefir, the idea of fermented ingredients has become much more mainstream and drinking fermented ingredients is very much part of mainstream.Chrissie Parkinson:
So there we have it, vinegar drinks are back. I'm really pleased that beverages with such a long history are at the forefront of the no and low scene. Mother Root and Jukes Cordialities are very different from each other, but they're both based around using a traditional ingredient to craft a modern beverage. Next week, we'll be hearing all about what happens to a drinks shelf life when you take the alcohol away. The last word this week goes to Matthew Jukes,Matthew Jukes:
and of course vinegar helps with the length helps with the dryness. It also helps because it's so clever, helps to extract through maceration, the real subtle nuances of the ingredients and that's what appeals to the wine people they think. And the chef's Of course, they say oh, look at the layers of flavour and of course it's very simple. It's the layers of the ingredients all lined up along the palate for you to have a good look at and you couldn't do that without the vinegar.Chrissie Parkinson 14:44
If you enjoyed this episode, please follow or subscribe to the Alcohol-free Sommelier on your favourite podcast platform. I'm Chrissie Parkinson, goodbye from me. And whatever your drink, drink well.